Relationships ebb and flow over time. They seem to grow closer and apart in waves, shifting from day-to-day and week-to-week. I observe that there are several continuing factors that influence the quality of (married) relationships. What are these “currencies”?
- Influence. This is about who makes the decisions. Are goals set together? Are decisions made on joint principles or made unilaterally?
- Disclosure. Willingness to share feelings. Do you withhold secrets or concerns?
- Effort. This is about pulling your “fair share” of the household load. Perception and reality are different.
- Money. This is about security and long-term needs and wants. Do you have an emergency fund? Is money pooled toward joint long-term goals. Do you discuss spending habits?
- Time. This is about doing what you want/need to do alone or together. Are we spending quality time with each other? Are you overscheduled and unavailable? Sleep is a special case, especially for those with young children.
By being conscious of these currencies you can make better personal choices. More importantly, these are the essential topics on which to have conversations and set boundaries, personally and as a couple. You may think that there is balance and “fairness” but you never know until you talk about it deeply and ask for feedback. The balance can be difficult because our priorities and personal values are different and shift.
I feel most of us believe that relationships should be 50/50. That can be a toxic belief. What if you substituted 100/0? Life is complicated and relationships can be too; make the investment to explore differences.
We’ve all had an experience where we’re calm one moment then agitated or quarreling, even fighting the next. We quarrel about money, how to raise our kids, priorities, politics and more. Most topics deserve polite and respectful engagement, but something triggers us. There are degrees of reaction. We move from a thought to an emotion to action (hopefully only words) in a split second, usually without thinking.
It starts with values and beliefs. Your triggers, especially the dysfunctional ones, are worth exploring. You can sometimes trace these back to an early time in your life. Consider the following steps; an example is in italics:
- Identify the trigger. It may be a person, event, thing or word. My boss critiques (rejects) my proposal or idea.
- Understand the behavior. How do you react? I immediately feel defensive.
- Uncover the underlying value. What personal need is not being met? What beliefs do I have? Respect; I have to be heard.
- Explore memories. What is you earliest memory? What does it teach us? My father was overly critical of my homework and never praised me for it doing well.
Values are a powerful force in our lives and compel us to action. Respect, family, honesty are examples. Some triggers are OK, e.g. crying with a sad movie. It’s those dysfunctional triggers that need reflection.
Take a breath, count to 10 or find some way to engage your brain to respond rather than react. Then T.H.I.N.K. before you speak.
We make hundreds of decisions per day. Most are routine and simple such as what clothes do I wear or what to eat for dinner. A few are more critical such as what car do I buy or what school should my child attend. These critical decisions require deliberation and a process, particularly if other people are participating in the decision making.
Here is a decision-making process:
- Clarify the decision to be made by describing/writing the problem or issue.
- List the alternatives; option development is as important as option analysis.
- List the decision criteria or principles.
- Evaluate each decision against the criteria. Set up a simple matrix on paper.
- Implement and monitor the decision. Did the outcome achieve expectations?
I want to focus on the 3rd bullet point, i.e. listing the criteria or principles. Using a car purchase as an example, the criteria might be: initial purchase cost, maintenance costs, gas mileage and safety features. You would simply list your alternatives and then assess each alternative against these criteria. Of course, some criteria might carry more weight and be required vs. optional.
This type of decision-making is particularly helpful in large, diverse groups. Instead of advocating (arguing) for a particular decision, identify and then keep the focus on the key principles that apply. Let the criteria guide the evaluation to build a consensus. Choices have consequences so keep the long-term outcomes in mind when evaluating.
You can read more about decision making at this link.
“Knowing yourself deeply” is a key theme of this blog, mostly in the context of discovering purpose. What do you do with this knowledge in everyday life? The picture above shows a kitten that thinks it’s a lion. This poor self-assessment of reality may work some of the time but likely will cause problems in communications and relationships.
Self-awareness is about knowing your strengths AND weaknesses. It’s about how you present yourself in a simple conversation, e.g. choice and tone of words, amount of words and body language. It’s about being in touch with your emotions (and triggers) and understanding how this affects your decisions and interactions.
Self-awareness points the way to a valuing of differences and is therefore particularly important in mentoring. It is a prerequisite to suspending personal biases and judgement and allows empathy to prevail. For example, I am disciplined, a morning person, goal-oriented, sometimes assertive and in a loving relationship. I know that discipline is not a common trait. I try not to assume that others have it and wonder what strengths they might have instead.
Personal growth requires asking for feedback which validates your assumptions. It lets you check if your strengths offset your weaknesses. This model by Marquita Herald shares some elements of self-awareness:
- Self-concept: how you perceive yourself.
- Self-regulation: taking responsibility for your choices.
- Self-development: developing character and abilities.
- Self-identity: recognition of one’s potential.
- Personal values: reflect needs and wants.
There are levels and types of self-awareness which if interested, you can read about at this link. Try this self-awareness quiz too.
Sometimes we wait for someone to give us permission and other times we take the initiative. Waiting for permission is a way of limiting ourselves, not living to our potential.
There are times to wait. We wait at a red stoplight even in the middle of the night when we don’t see any traffic. We might raise our hand before speaking in a group. We wait for our manager or customer to activate a project start. There are times not to wait. For example, seeking peer approval of a group of friends or work colleagues before we start on a goal of personal importance or acting on matters of values and principles.
Take the initiative. Jump in because we think we have the plan or “the answer” or we have confidence in a special skill. Permission implies we are waiting for “authority”. Leadership requires some risk taking. We can lead even if we are not the “top person” by rank. Mastery, experience and wisdom have value.
Some would say it is better to choose to act then ask for forgiveness later. It depends on the situation. Of course, judgement is required. Some actions don’t have easy responses and so we plan, think and even pray. The key point is just being aware of our choices. We must live intentionally and purposefully.
Are you leading or following? Are you timid or do you have courage? What are the items on your Vision or Goals that require initiative?
Do you work better with self-imposed (internal) deadlines or those that come externally? Let’s start with some examples:
- You want to update your resume so that you can apply for a new job (this is internal because no one else is telling you to do it and you have a choice).
- A customer or your manager requires you to complete a project by a certain date (this is external, you don’t have a choice).
- You are planning a big birthday party for someone in your family (probably a blend of internal and external).
External implies little or no control of the situation; you must do it. Externally imposed deadlines usually get done because there is a consequence. The consequence could be positive (an incentive exists) or negative (fear of losing a job or peer pressure).
Deadlines are the pretty much the same as goals. A life skill in goal accomplishment is personal accountability including motivation, planning and discipline (and avoiding procrastination). The insight is to use these same skills for self-imposed goals too.
If the goal is long-term, e.g. successfully transition to a new job by January 2019 then Vision is needed too. Don’t forget to make goals and deadlines SMART: specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and timed.
An interesting discovery when I looked at the definition of deadline when I found this: “a line drawn around a prison beyond which prisoners were liable to be shot”. Now that is a consequence.
Thoughts pop into our head all day long. Some come and go and others linger. Some make us happy and others accumulate into unnecessary stress. Thoughts get compared to beliefs and might turn into emotions. These emotions can work for us or against us…toward our vision and goals or away. It can unfold in seconds or linger for days. Let’s look at the process.
- Thoughts. A thought pops into our head. We are not fully mindful.
- Beliefs. These thoughts get compared to intrinsic beliefs. These beliefs are “truth” for us but not necessarily everyone else because we tell ourselves “stories”.
- Emotions. Emotions instantaneously emerge from these thoughts and beliefs. Some accumulate into unhealthy stress.
- Actions. Finally, we choose to react or respond. Reacting is what we do without thinking and sometimes gets us into trouble. It’s usually better to take a deep breath and respond with your mind engaged.
Here is an example. You agree to host the holiday dinner for the extended family for the first time. Your thoughts go to planning…what to buy and where to sit. You believe (hope, pray) that it is an event that should go without incident. You want to show you can do it with excellence. Emotions emerge as things go slightly wrong…a drink spilled or a casserole burned. You say something (the action) that you later regret.
Pause for a moment to check what you are thinking. Don’t judge it; just acknowledge it. This begins the journey of mindfulness.